A Traders Tale – Part Three

A real life tale from a real life motor trader in 4 parts…

Eventually the sight of the great unwashed coming in on a Saturday afternoon became too much for the executives within the upper echelons of the motor trade to bear, so the dear old IMT’s were facing burnout. Also, this secondary element of the retail transaction was always regarded as a wide open inlet for potential bribery, embezzlement and general bad boy corruption. As it was, the occurrence of this was always over estimated by paranoid financial directors, the reality being that most IMT’s were certainly wise but fundamentally hardworking, honest people. For them risking a regular supply of used cars at the right price in order to get a few at a slightly lower price was not the smart option. In any case, these were the days in which as a salesman, you could be instantly dismissed for answering the phone incorrectly which left us terrified of everything, let alone any form of under desk practice. However the paradigm of part exchange disposals did change over to a strict auction policy for most. Just about every car that was now surplus to requirements was sent to one place and this completely transparent method of vehicle disposal relinquished the poor old accountants of their sleepless nights and a little bit of life and colour faded from the motor trade forever. Having said that there are a few dealers that still do use IMT’s but they tend to be niche or provincial dealers, the majority of used car operations which in the main are part of large groups, generally have strict auction policies. This traders approach to buying cars at auction is entirely different to the underwriting style described above, an introduction of which can be read on MTI.

I went with auctions and do you know what? It was alright. There was never a shortage of stock and I even started buying cars at one auction driving it across country and selling it at another (hence the start of the intergalactic mileage). The auctions were flooded with cars and unbelievably, there was one point when I was buying cars from auction that had been entered by a humungous super group only to sell them the next day for retail purposes to a dealership owned by the same group. With the advent of the very accessible showroom of the internet, trade and retail sales were all swift and it enabled me to continue my enviable lifestyle consisting of enough cash, month long holidays, late nights, late starts and general great fun. My tools of the trade were a mobile phone, Glass’s Guide a cheque book and a set of trade plates. My formal qualifications consisted of an Art A level grade E (I was having a bad day) and a human Biology CSE. What better continued vocational direction could there be for a young man in my position?

It was a very good life and I’m grateful that I was able to live it. I’m glad to say that virtually every day after I left to do what my dealer principle told me I shouldn’t, I enjoyed. I was doing what I should be doing and everyone around me seemed to think so too. So much so that I had people all over the place offering me money to invest, it never ceased to amaze me. So many people love the idea of buying and selling cars, and I did make it look fun and very easy, which it was most of the time. Plus I happen to come across as entirely straight and trustworthy, which I am most of the time. So I guess that is why I often got taken to one side and told about an amount of money that a friend had that was immediately available to me if I wanted to use it. I even had several customers offer me money. On every visit, the owner of my local Italian Restaurant offered me as much as I wanted to buy and sell cars.

I never took anyone up on this, call it independence or greed, I never wanted to share my business with anyone. At the beginning I had a friend of the family who gave me short term loans for one off purchases and then I agreed an overdraft facility with my incredibly friendly bank but I never wanted or needed to actually borrow from anyone else. Or for that matter did I want to employ anyone other than the sizeable number of secondary employees involved with the paintwork, valeting, mechanical and accountancy, who readily carried out all the things that I either couldn’t do or didn’t want to, as and when I needed them to do it. My position at the time was that I was completely established, in a business that I lived and breathed and totally understood which happened to be doing well enough to allow me to do virtually whatever I wanted to do whenever I wanted to do it. I got to a point when I was 35 years old, single and living on my own in my own very cool little house. I had £40k working capital of my own plus a £60k facility from my incredibly friendly bank. My house that I’d bought in 1999 was worth twice the amount that I’d paid for it, I was regularly earning (and spending) £4-5k a month and I was very happy indeed. Things were going so well that it was high time to make some schoolboy errors.

I started by changing my winning formula. In 2005 I was offered a lot of money on a very attractive basis from some people who were very close to me who had it spare and didn’t know what else to do with it. I was doubtful but I went for it. So £200k came my way and I increased the output of my business over night. I took David on, a wise old friend of mine who I trusted implicitly along with a full time administrator and full time driver. We were retailing 30 cars per month from a new facility, virtually all on eBay. It was a good business model, it was fast, scalable and very exciting, and my incredibly friendly bank got even friendlier. Although I was personally earning no more, I was working so much harder which is actually what I wanted.

I should explain something that wasn’t that clear then but retrospectively is now. Before I started off on my above fateful mission, I came to realise that I had an underlying feeling of guilt. For a large period of my life I was doing so much less work than everyone else seemed to be doing and yet earning more than most. I was having more time off, when everyone else was heading back to the office with the Christmas blues; I was going skiing for the 3rd time that season. I was getting up on Monday when most other people had been at work for 4 hours and no matter what part of the country I was in if it was past 3pm on a Friday I would be standing in a pub. Work never felt like work and the issues that I had to concern myself with were, at that time related to just two things; the juggling act that was my dysfunctional but very enjoyable love life and deciding what to do at the weekend, a decision that was usually put off until I was nearly halfway through it.

So basically I was having a fantastic life but the guilt was there for perhaps not being as productive as I could have been. So, this new found massive responsibility of staff, other people’s investment and burgeoning business was just what the doctor ordered. It was what I felt I should be doing, growing up a bit I guess.

Check back for the 4th and final installment…


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One Response to A Traders Tale – Part Three

  1. Mark R May 28, 2012 at 7:35 pm #

    I’ve been following this closely, very closely, you see i’m Cameron’s twin, not in real life of course, but virtually every thing he has said here was me, is me, and in part 4 is probably going to be me, I won’t go on about what i have driven, owned, sold, bought, had repaired or imported and exported within the Motor Trade, Cameron has already said most of it for me ! and with a truth not often put into print.

    To say it’s got tough out there is an understatement, in nearly thirty years of solid retailing and trading from Mini’s to Rolls Royce’s, from Dealer Principal to IMT i have never, ever, known it so hard, the world of the IMT has changed beyond all recognition in just a few short years, it’s now a job for the very brave or the very foolish, fortunes could once be made but in today’s climate more often than not they will be lost, the world is changing at an ever increasing pace, and unfortunately for the IMT, so is the Motor Trade ………..

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